More pet signs of the Apoc­a­lypse

The Washington Times Weekly - - Page Two - By Carol Wolf

PetS­mart Inc.’s four-footed clients can­loun­geon­hy­poal­ler­geni­clamb­skin blan­kets, watch television and snack on lac­tose-free, fat-free ice cream while stay­ing at a Pet­sHo­tel when their own­ers are away.

The na­tion’s largest U.S. pet-store chain, with 909 stores, has set a goal of even­tu­ally open­ing 435 Pet­sHo­tels, a sev­en­fold in­crease from its cur­rent 62 lo­ca­tions.

“I’ve been inside stores that have ho­tels,” said Wal­ter Todd, a money man­ager with Green­wood Cap­i­tal, a PetS­mart in­vestor in Green­wood, S.C. “They are pretty im­pres­sive. You wouldn’t mind stay­ing in one your­self.”

PetS­mart cus­tomer Jean Rask, 76, takes her two dogs — 13-yearold Trixie, a border col­lie-Ger­man shep­herd mix, and 12-year-old Peb­bles, a Chi­huahua — to a Pet­sHo­tel be­cause she likes the care. They are also groomed dur­ing their stay.

The re­tired ac­coun­tant’s as­sis­tant made reser­va­tions for her dogs to stay for two nights start­ing Christ­mas Eve at the Pet­sHo­tel in Whit­tier, Calif., about 20 miles from Los An­ge­les.

“They take good care of them,” she said. “They have th­ese sheep­skins in their lit­tle suites and they get clean ones ev­ery day.” The ho­tel costs her $46 a night for both dogs.

Dog own­ers pay about $31 a night for a suite, a room with a win­dow that mea­sures 4 feet by 7 feet. The suites have raised dog beds with lamb­skin blan­kets and a television. The television plays videos such as Walt Dis­ney Co.’s “Lady and the Tramp” and “101 Dal­ma­tians.”

Stan­dard ac­com­mo­da­tions in­clude cages with blan­kets and padded beds and cost $21 a night.

Prices in­clude “Bone Booth” phone calls from a spot where pets can sit on an el­e­vated cush­ion and chat with their va­ca­tion­ing own­ers with the help of the staff. About 40 per­cent of cus­tomers use the Bone Booth ser­vice, PetS­mart said. Groom­ing and train­ing ser­vices are ex­tra, and ice-cream snacks cost $3 each.

Dogs re­ceive ex­er­cise by join­ing their ca­nine pals in a su­per­vised in­door play­room with earth-tone con­crete floor­ing and tile. Inside are chew toys and a min­is­lide.

A sur­vey last year by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter found that 85 per­cent of pet own­ers call their dogs mem­bers of the fam­ily, as do 78 per­cent of those with cats. Eighty per­cent buy hol­i­day and birth­day gifts for pets. Nearly 50 per­cent of women said they re­lied more on their pet’s af­fec­tion than they did on their spouse’s or chil­dren’s.

“We are ben­e­fit­ing from the trend to­ward the hu­man­iza­tion of pets,” said David Len­hardt, head of ser­vices for PetS­mart. “It’s that pas­sion for pets that makes the pet ho­tel work.”

Sales at PetS­mart stores with lodg­ing are 29 per­cent higher than those with­out it af­ter the fifth year, PetS­mart says.

PetS­mart’s rev­enue from ser­vices, such as groom­ing, train­ing and lodg­ing, has in­creased an av­er­age of 27 per­cent an­nu­ally dur­ing the past six years, and ser­vices are twice as prof­itable as sell­ing pet toys and food, Mr. Len­hardt said. Sales at PetS­mart stores open at least a year rose 4.2 per­cent in 2005.

“Ser­vices have been PetS­mart’s sav­ing grace,” said Mr. Todd, whose firm owned 159,900 PetS­mart shares as of Sept. 30. “They’ve been pleas­antly sur­prised by the suc­cess of the con­cept.”

PetS­mart shares have more than dou­bled in the past five years, while the Stan­dard & Poor’s 500 In­dex has risen 23 per­cent. PetS­mart had sales of $3.76 bil­lion last year, when it groomed 6.5 mil­lion.

Pet­sHo­tels notched sales of $16.7 mil­lion in 2005, dou­ble $8.7 mil­lion a year ear­lier. Pet­sHo­tels will add to profit in 2008 as more are built and ex­ist­ing ho­tels at­tract cus­tomers, said Joan Storms, a Los An­ge­les an­a­lyst at Wed­bush Morgan Se­cu­ri­ties, which rates PetS­mart “buy” and doesn’t own the shares.

Pet-item sales and ser­vices have the sec­ond-fastest growth for U.S. re­tail­ers af­ter con­sumer elec­tron­ics, says the Amer­i­can Pet Prod­ucts Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion Inc. The U.S. pet in­dus­try has ex­panded 36 per­cent to $45 bil­lion in 2006 from 2000.

Bloomberg News

Go­ing to the dogs never felt so good: The Pet­sHo­tel staff in Whit­tier, Calif., was ready to serve four-footed cus­tomers. Wal­ter Todd, a money man­ager with Green­wood Cap­i­tal, a PetS­mart in­vestor, called the pet ho­tels “pretty im­pres­sive. You wouldn’t mind stay­ing in one your­self.”

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